Using insects as animal feed could replace over half a million tonnes of soy from the UK food supply, according to WWF.
The research, commissioned by the environmental NGO in partnership with Tesco, identifies “huge potential” for insect farming to help tackle the climate and nature crisis.
Replacing soy with viable alternative feeds could help protect important ecosystems like the Brazilian Cerrado, the report found.
It noted that animal feed accounts for around 75% of soy production, but cultivation of the crop is fuelling climate change, deforestation and habitat conversion in several key ecosystems, including the Brazillian Cerrado, where more than 100,000 hectares of habitat is lost each year to make way for soy production.
WWF and Tesco estimate that total demand for insect meal from the UK’s pig, poultry and salmon sectors could reach around 540,000 tonnes a year by 2050. This could result in about 16,000 tonnes of fishmeal and 524,000 tonnes of soy being replaced – equivalent to one fifth of the UK’s projected soy imports in 2050.
They are calling on UK policy makers and industry to act urgently to scale up use of alternatives to soy and support a circular feed system.
Currently, processed insect protein cannot be fed to any farmed livestock intended for human consumption although the EU is shortly expected to amend legislation to permit its use in pig and poultry feed.
The use of insect meal is permitted within aquaculture, however volumes are currently too low and so prices are high, preventing significant uptake, according to the report.
Insects have the advantage of being able to convert biological waste, including surplus food and food by-products, into protein thereby creating a circular feed system.
WWF and Tesco are calling on the government to research the potential to use additional feedstocks for insect farming.
“We encourage the UK government and retail industry to take urgent action to get environmentally damaging practices out of our supply chains and off our shelves,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “This includes scaling up the use of alternative proteins such as insect meal and supporting calls for a circular feed system here in the UK.”
Tesco’s chief product officer Ashwin Prasad said retailers like Tesco and the food industry as a whole had a key role to play in scaling up the use of insect feed, which Tesco is already trialling in its aquaculture supply chain. “We’re calling on government to build on this report and develop financial incentives to support innovative farming methods, such as insect farming, which will support the scale up of these new industries,” said Prasad.